A Melbourne woman was allegedly at the centre of a scam that stole nearly $2 million from unsuspecting Australians’ superannuation account, in a scheme that involved identity theft, the dark web and cryptocurrencies.

Twenty-one year old Melbourne woman Jasmine Vella-Arpaci was charged with 53 fraud offences at the Melbourne Magistrates Court this week over her alleged role in a major global fraud syndicate that dubbed themselves “Team Awesome”.

Police claim that the group stole almost $2 million from superannuation funds and attempted to withdraw a further $7 million.

The syndicate reportedly obtained identification documents from a marketplace on the dark web, and then used those documents to change the dates of birth on the victims’ superannuation accounts, allowing them to withdraw money.

They then allegedly transferred the funds into Westpac and NAB accounts that they had opened using other stolen identification documents, and sent debit cards for those accounts to a different criminal group in Hong Kong.

This group in Hong Kong withdrew the money and used it to buy and sell expensive jewellery, with a cut of the proceeds being returned to the syndicate using cryptocurrency, police said.

The syndicate used VPNs to hide their identities online and communicated using encrypted messaging apps.

The fraud began in early 2018, and Australian Federal Police raided Vella-Arpaci’s home in April, allegedly finding hundreds of details and images of stolen IDs on computers and phones.

She has now been charged on 53 counts of conspiring to cause unauthorised access and modification of data, conspiring to obtain property by deception and dealing in personal identification and financial information.

“To put it simply: criminals have been attempting to steal retirement nest eggs from people around Australia using the dark net and cryptocurrencies,” AFP manager of cyber crimes and operations acting commander Chris Goldsmid told the media.

“The woman created Australian bank accounts using stolen identities, through identity documents stolen from online marketplaces on the dark net, a process we call an identity takeover.

“From identity theft, where innocent victims have their personal details stolen and sold online in dark net marketplaces; to hacking and phishing, this investigation has illustrated the devastating impacts that compromise of your identity can have.”

Police have said that more arrests are also expected, with the other alleged members of the syndicate only identified as “Moneymonkey”, “H”, “Elvy X”, “Steven Rocks” and “Kevin Butwell”.

Impacted superannuation funds include Club Plus Superannuation, HESTA, Hostplus, AustralianSuper and LUCRF Superannuation. Australians have been urged to check their super balance to ensure no unauthorised deductions have been made.

The scam also targeted share-trading accounts, and CommSec, the country’s biggest retail sharebroker.

“The consequences of the breaches we have discovered are far-reaching and can be traced back to cybercrime offences that impact everyday Australians,” Goldsmid said.

ASIC deputy chairman Daniel Crennan said the super funds have been cooperating with the investigation, but may be further penalised for the breach due to inadequate safeguards.

“Those entities already owe those obligations and there are significant civil penalties,” Crennan said.

“We will continue to pursue not only cyber-related market and superannuation offending but also the need for institutions to maintain their obligations to ensure they have adequate cyber resilience.”

The majority of victims are said to be from New South Wales and Victoria, with a number of Queenslanders and Western Australians also impacted.

Vella-Arpaci has been released on bail and will return to court in February, with the prosecution granted extra time to provide a brief of evidence to the defence due to the large amount of digital data to analyse, including “thousands of stolen IDs” and “tens of thousands of call records”.